Today in Movie History: May 4

We’re sticking with Marvel today because… well because one of the biggest superhero movies of all time opened today. 2012’s The Avengers turned an already successful franchise — three franchises technically — into something entirely new. Not since the Universal horror cycle in the 1940s had we seen anything quite like it, and Universal couldn’t dream of accomplishing something on the scale that director Joss Whedon accomplished. The MCU wouldn’t be the force it is without this hurricane changing the landscape forever.

68 years previous, we find Gaslight, George Cukor’s unbearable suspense masterpiece about a woman whose husband is trying to drive her mad. The term “gaslighting” stems from the film, and watching Charles Boyer — an actor known largely for his suave lover roles at the time — torture Ingrid Bergman in the most insidious manner possible still holds a powerful punch. (It also earned Bergman one of her three Academy Awards.) Gaslight opened today in 1944.

Finally, the third spot on the podium belongs to Sixteen Candles, which helped define high school pictures for a generation and launched the career of teen movie guru John Hughes. His formula was simple: understand that, when you’re in high school, forgetting your birthday feels like the end of the world, and mine humor from a sympathetic place instead of telling those crazy kids to grow up and look at the big picture. Sixteen Candles opened today in 1984.


Today in Movie History: February 15

Stagecoach is one of those movies whose influence kind of creeps up on you. Not only did it cement a number of Western conventions that later went on to become clichés (Monument Valley settings, cavalry arriving at the last minute, etc.), but it made a star out of John Wayne and turned director John Ford into Hollywood legend. It also featured the innovative stunt work of Yakima Canutt, who practically invented the field. (His spectacular drop beneath a team of moving horses still has to be seen to be believed; it’s on the clip below at about the one-minute mark) Stagecoach first opened on this day in 1939.

On a lighter note, Walt Disney scored a big hit with its catchy adaptation of Cinderella, which premiered today in 1950. Frankly, I don’t count it among Disney’s best, but it help launch their impressive run in the 1950s and remains one of their most beloved films to this day. And who am I to argue with that?

Teenage dramas come and go, and every generation has their favorite. At the risk of sounding immodest, however, I’d say that Generation X owns this turf, thanks in no small part to The Breakfast Club: John Hughes’s tale of one memorable day in Saturday detention and the representatives of high school’s perennial cliques who somehow find a way to understand each other. It opened today in 1985.

Finally, we should quietly mention that today saw the release of one of the most miserable exercises in cinematic excess ever. We’re talking about Tinto Brass’s Caligula: a chance to revel in the grotesqueries of the Roman Empire in the most incompetent and ruthlessly exploitative ways imaginable. Producer Bob Guccione of Penthouse fame was trying to match the legitimacy rival Hugh Hefner found by supporting Polanski’s Macbeth, among other projects. But he lacked the instincts, the temperament and the taste to repeat the trick, and he and Brass fought endlessly during the production. Screenwriter Gore Vidal disowned the whole unseemly mess, while a fistful of slumming actors — including Malcolm McDowell, Helen Mirren, John Gielgud, and Peter O’Toole — wisely kept their heads down and ran for the hills the minute the project was done. It opened today in 1980, and we admonish you to watch it at your own risk.